Trigger warning: Suicide
My introduction to suicide was brutal. Jane, a good friend at school, died by suicide at the age of 13. December 1986. She'd been at my house with a small group of close friends for my 14th birthday sleepover a couple of weeks before.
We stayed up all night talking and there had been suicidal ideation. She said she'd been thinking about it, but it depended on the outcome of a particular situation. Teenage angst. None of us believed for a moment she would go through with it. It haunted me for many years, and still does really. Could I, we, that close-knit group of friends, have done anything to prevent it from happening? Should we have told someone, a responsible adult, our parents? We'd been sworn to secrecy and this was the mid-1980s. We stuck to that code and spent a lot of time and energy keeping things from our parents, rather than sharing. We didn't realise the enormity of what she was saying. Why would we? We were 13 and 14.
But we grew up overnight, our innocence gone. The horror of hearing what had happened by phone call on a Sunday teatime. The assembly at school the next day to our shell-shocked year group, but no offer of counselling or how to manage our grief. The collective teenage sobbing at the funeral and the absolute desolation on the faces of her family. The need to know and yet lack of detail surrounding the circumstances of her death which left us with gruesome hearsay only. It had a massive impact on our friendship group. I thought about her daily for at least 3 years, and even now, 36 years later, the memory of Jane lives on in our consciousness.
As I got older, other suicides seeped into my awareness.
The friend of my parents who suddenly stopped coming to stay. Hosepipe attached to his exhaust in a locked garage. 115 people die by suicide in the UK every week – with 75% of those deaths being male.
A friend of a friend who hung herself off a remote bridge on the Isle of Skye. Leaving a husband and 2 tiny children. Suicide remains the leading cause of direct maternal death in the first postnatal year.
The 50 year old mother of 4 young adults who must have been deeply unhappy. Suicide rates for women aged 45 to 54 – the most common age for perimenopause and menopause – have risen 6% in 20 years.
And the many public figures who end their lives by suicide. Actors, musicians, artists, presenters. Brilliant, creative but often tortured souls who are desperate enough to think that suicide is the best option.
Over 700,000 people take their own life each year – that's one person every 40 seconds (Source: World Health Organization). And this is World Suicide Prevention Day. So what can we, society, do to reduce these numbers?
If you are struggling with your mental health, or having suicidal thoughts, please, please reach out to someone. Often it's easier to talk to a stranger. Here are some options:
- Call Samaritans directly on 116 123 (24 hrs a day)
- Text SHOUT to 85258 to start a confidential conversation with a trained Shout Volunteer
- Contact CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) on their national helpline 0800 585858 (5pm to midnight)
- Call Breathing Space 0800 838587
- Call the NHS on 111
- Contact your local Mental Health Assessment Service, in Edinburgh it's 0131 537 6000
- Call Edinburgh Crisis Centre on 0808 801 0414 or text 0797 442 9075 (24 hrs a day)
If you have been affected by the suicide of a friend or family member, or just want to do more to have the confidence to help people who are at that desperate stage of feeling that life isn't worth living, there are lots of courses available for suicide awareness and, more importantly, prevention. Just google 'suicide awareness training UK' and you will find options from organisations such as Samaritans, Papyrus UK, Zero Suicide Alliance, Every Life Matters, Grassroots Suicide Prevention and others. They are often FREE and don't take long. You could do a course as an individual or organise a training session for your workplace. Please take action.
So, so many people are impacted by suicide. We HAVE to reduce these numbers. Today is not just about awareness, but prevention of suicide.
RIP Jane. Long gone but never forgotten.
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